Discrimination and Assessment of Induced Seismicity in Active Tectonic Zones: A Case Study from Southern California
Abstract:Earthquakes induced by human activity have become a matter of heightened public concern during recent years. Of particular concern is seismicity associated with wastewater injection, which has included events having magnitudes greater than 5. The causes of the induced events are primarily changes in pore-pressure, fluid volume and perhaps temperature due to injection. Recent research in the US has focused on mid-continental regions having low rates of naturally-occurring seismicity, where induced events can be identified by relatively straightforward spatial and temporal correlation of seismicity with high-volume injection activities. Recent examples include events correlated with injection of wastewater in Oklahoma, Arkansas, Texas and Ohio, and long-term brine injection in the Paradox Valley in Colorado. Even in some of the cases where there appears at first sight to be a clear spatial correlation between seismicity and injection, it has been difficult to establish causality definitively.
Here, we discuss methods to identify induced seismicity in active tectonic regions. We concentrate our study on Southern California, where large numbers of wastewater injection wells are located in oil-producing basins that experience moderate to high rates of naturally-occurring seismicity. Using the catalog of high-precision CISN relocations produced by Hauksson et al. (BSSA, 2012), we aim to discriminate induced from natural events based on spatio-temporal patterns of seismicity occurrence characteristics and their relationships to injection activities, known active faults and other faults favorably oriented for slip under the tectonic stress field. Since the vast majority of induced earthquakes are very small, it is crucial to include all events above the detection threshold of the CISN in each area studied. In addition to exploring the correlation of seismicity to injection activities in time and space, we analyze variations in frequency-magnitude distributions, which can be related to differences between the physical conditions at the sources of fluid-induced and natural earthquakes. While induced seismicity often does not show different mechanisms than tectonic earthquakes, an abundance of induced microseismicity causes the slope of the frequency-magnitude distribution to increase locally.